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Sex therapist Casey Tanner aka @Queersextherapy debunks myths about bi-sexuality and offers tips to be a better ally to the LGBTQ+ people in your life.
Most members of the LGBTQ+ community know that there are pros and cons to being “seen” in their identities. Within my community, being seen as queer is connective, validating, and helps me get my needs for chosen family met. Outside of my community, though, being identified as queer comes with a range of unpredictable and sometimes terrifying reactions from strangers.
When out with a partner, I am constantly evaluating and re-evaluating where it is or isn’t safe to hold hands, be affectionate, or use terms of endearment. I am a white and often straight-perceived person, so the levels of discomfort and hypervigilance I experience in hetero/cis-spaces are actually quite small compared to folks with more marginalized and/or visible identities.
Certainly, there is both loss and privilege in being under the radar as an LGBTQ+ person; the bisexual identity often lies at the crux of this conundrum. Within the queer community, there exists the perception that bisexual people have it easier. This idea is not only harmful, but characteristically untrue. Countless research studies have shown that bisexual folks have, on average, higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality and lower access to affirming services that help with these struggles than do lesbian and gay individuals. This research is explained largely by the likelihood that bisexual people will be rejected by BOTH straight and LGTQ spaces. That is, straight people may label bisexual people as “too gay” while people in the LGTQ community may label them as “too straight”. Both are wrong, and bisexual people get erased.
There are many other ways we erase, invalidate, and micro-aggress bisexual people. We tell them (or imply), “It’s just a phase”. We call it “experimenting”. We accuse them of being indecisive, unfaithful, dirty, and a whole host of massively biphobic labels. We create spaces for gay and (some) lesbian folks, but when is the last time you heard of a public space for bisexual people?
This matters because what happens in the micro impacts the macro. Research neglects the bisexual identity. Doctors often don’t ask questions that make space for bisexual folks. Perhaps most importantly, all of this teaches bisexual individuals to erase themselves. Bisexual folks come out, on average, several years later than gay and lesbian individuals; part of this discrepancy can be attributed to how little validation of the bisexual identity we offer to teens and young adults.
My hope here is to offer just a bit of the validation that’s been missing, and to get other people who aren’t bisexual to do the same.
Here are some ways to be a better ally to the bisexual people in your life:
● When in LGBTQ+ spaces, don’t assume that women are lesbians or that men are gay - there are many other identities!
● If someone in the LGBTQ+ community begins talking about a sexual and/or romantic experience with a different gender, keep invalidating reactions to yourself. This includes acting surprised, saying “I thought you were gay!”, or making any comments that suggest this experience is less valid than one with the same gender.
● Check your biphobia on dating apps. When you reject someone on the basis that they sleep with a gender other than yours, you are reinforcing harmful stereotypes about bisexual people.
● Take some time to assess where your biphobia comes from - what is it you’re really afraid of? If you’re afraid of STI’s, that’s not about the bisexual person - it’s because you need to do more research on testing and having conversations about sexual safety. If you’re afraid of being left for someone of another gender, that’s also NOT about the bisexual person. Know which parts of the work are yours to own.
● Don’t fettishize. Bisexual people do not exist for your pleasure, fantasy, or power trip.
● When you mess up, apologize, move on, and do better. Don’t put the bisexual person in a position to have to soothe you or make you feel better about your microaggression - that soothing and compassion has to come from you.
● If you’re still learning (we all are!), find an accountability partner who is not bisexual and do some research together.
Bisexuality is very, very real. If you identify as bisexual, you don’t need to “prove” yourself as being legitimate, serious, or valid - you just are. You’re valid if you’ve only slept with one gender; you’re valid if you’ve never slept with anyone before! You’re valid if you’re out; you’re valid if you’re not! And for those of us who aren’t bisexual, we need to do better for these essential and amazing members of our community.
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